The Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ADAFSA) has emphasised the importance of conserving water resources in the face of scarcity of renewable sources by ensuring their optimal use and avoiding harmful practices that exacerbate water waste and depletion.

This is in line with the 'Mohamed bin Zayed Water Initiative', launched under the directives of President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to address the pressing global challenge of water scarcity.

This comes on the occasion of World Water Day, which is celebrated every year on 22nd March, and highlights initiatives aimed at achieving sustainability in the agricultural sector and preserving natural resources for future generations.

ADAFSA, in coordination with strategic partners, is working to implement several projects and initiatives to improve water efficiency in agriculture, mitigate the environmental impacts of water mismanagement, and manage water resources comprehensively.

One of the key projects is the Treated Water Distribution Project, where ADAFSA has recently extended treated water to more than 1,600 farms in Al Khatam, Al Khaznah and Al Nahda areas, as part of an ambitious plan to expand the use of recycled water for irrigating farms in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with its strategic partners, the Department of Energy - Abu Dhabi (DoE), the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), in addition to TAQA, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain Distribution Company, and Abu Dhabi Sustainable Water Solutions Company.

Abu Dhabi's plan to expand the use of recycled water in agriculture is in line with its overall sustainability goals, as recycled water is one of the important and necessary options to reduce pressure on groundwater resources and can be used in various development sectors, including agriculture, to ensure the sustainability of agricultural production and reduce the depletion of natural water resources.

The Project is in line with the objectives of the UAE Water Security Strategy 2036 which aims to ensure the sustainability and continuity of securing water supplies for all residential, commercial, public, industrial and agricultural uses.

It is also consistent with Abu Dhabi's recycled water policy, which aims to maximise the use of recycled water, in addition to contributing to the rationalisation of groundwater use in agriculture and achieving integrated management and sustainable development of available water resources. This is because recycled water is one of the most important alternative and sustainable sources for use in agriculture, with the need to comply with international standards that ensure the safe use of recycled water and the safety of agricultural products produced by farms irrigated with this water.

ADAFSA is also implementing the Sustainable Agricultural Development Plan for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. This plan is being developed in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and will result in a comprehensive development plan for the next ten years. The plan will identify the priority actions needed to transform the Emirate's agricultural sector into a more sustainable one from an economic, environmental and social perspective.

The project includes the development of decision support tools consisting of an innovative platform and interactive maps based on geographic information systems, analyses and mathematical models for planning and dividing agricultural areas based on their environmental, agricultural and social characteristics. It is based on a series of in-depth economic modelling and analytical studies and complementary studies aimed at increasing the efficiency of sustainable agricultural production in the emirate.

The Sustainable Agricultural Development Plan for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi adopts the principle of regional planning for the emirate's farms. This involves identifying areas that are similar in terms of development potential and resources, and developing development procedures for them. The aim is to formulate a comprehensive plan that includes the adoption of climate-smart agriculture to ensure sustainable development in Abu Dhabi.

ADAFSA's water conservation programmes include the development of the Electronic Irrigation Calculator Project, launched in 2019 to provide farmers with a smart tool to accurately determine their water needs and optimise their consumption. The system will help farmers calculate the water needed for crops according to weather conditions in each region. It also provides farmers with updated information on irrigation needs for agricultural crops according to actual planting schedules, directly linked to and fed by ADAFSA's agricultural weather stations.

In addition, the project to measure the average water consumption on farms in the emirate: meters were installed to calculate the average water consumption on farms in order to identify gaps and implement appropriate solutions to conserve water in the agricultural sector in the emirate.

ADAFSA's initiatives also include the Collective Irrigation Programme, which aims to manage the irrigation system through collective irrigation stations in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. This system currently covers some 6,300 farms spread across the emirate's agricultural areas. The system has helped farmers improve the quantity or quality of their water, with each farm receiving a specific amount of water based on its area and water source.

In addition, ADAFSA organises training and extension programmes to raise awareness among farm owners and workers about the importance of rationalising water use and best agricultural practices that contribute to the conservation of water resources. In 2023, 736 training courses and extension programmes were held, with 18,515 participants.

ADAFSA provides a dedicated mobile application for agricultural advice. The application includes guides on general irrigation guidelines and the appropriate irrigation system for each crop, as well as water requirements and irrigation scheduling. It also provides farmers with detailed information on best farming practices for different crops. The application has been used by 5,100 users to date.

Additionally, ADAFSA is implementing several initiatives to conserve water and improve its efficiency, including the Abu Dhabi Good Agricultural Practices (AD GAP) programme for farms in the emirate. The programme applies best agricultural practices in general and water conservation in particular. In 2023, 1,530 farms will be certified.

ADAFSA has recently updated and issued a set of regulations and specifications for water-consuming cropland. The aim is to regulate practices in the agricultural sector in a way that serves the goals and aspirations of the Abu Dhabi government in strengthening the role of this vital sector. In addition, ADAFSA is strengthening the role of inspection and control to monitor violations and take the necessary action against them. The Authority emphasises its confidence in the awareness of farmers and their understanding of the importance of water conservation.

Moreover, ADAFSA consistently supports and advises farmers to maintain their irrigation networks regularly and to use modern irrigation systems tailored to the specific needs of each crop. They encourage farmers to irrigate at optimum times and to respect the water quotas set for each crop. In addition, ADAFSA promotes the use of advanced agricultural technologies that accurately determine the water needs of crops. They also encourage the adoption of efficient irrigation systems, such as hydroponic systems, which are known for their superior water efficiency. To date, some 89 farms have adopted hydroponic farming methods, demonstrating ADAFSA's commitment to promoting sustainable agricultural practices in Abu Dhabi.